Backcountry Skiing the Pfeifferhorn Couloirs

Backcountry Skiing the Pfeifferhorn Couloirs.  

Backcountry Skiing the Pfeifferhorn Couloirs in Little Cottonwood Canyon Utah.  A classic mountaineering challenge of the Wasatch.  The Pfeifferhorn was once called the Little Matterhorn because of its  similarities to the Matterhorn.  The now named Pfeifferhorn this iconic peak of the Wasatch has everything, big views, big exposure,  big approaches, to big skiing.  A trip up here is part endurance sport, part mountaineering challenge, part backcountry skiing, and a full on adventure.  Yeah Mamma Pie, give me some of this! 

Brian House & Mike Mckinney ready for Awesome!

To ski mountaineers, backcountry skiing the Pfeifferhorn couloirs are the most sought after couloirs in the Wasatch.  They are serious big mountain objectives with you FALL & DIE consequences.  Below I describe each couloir, give my experience, and provide photo diagrams to help you seek out your own Pfeifferhorn adventure.

Pfeifferhorn NW Couloir

Pfeifferhorn NW couloir

The iconic NW Couloir. The Pfeifferhorn Northwest Couloir is the star of the show.  It's part backcountry skiing challenge and part mountaineering challenge. To ski it, you'll need an ice axe, harness, carabiners, rope, and a couple of slings.    We used a 30-meter rope and came up a few feet short and had to down climb a bit.  To access the NW couloir, make your way to the Pfeifferhorn East Ridge. Then skin or boot pack the east ridge to the summit.  In springtime the conditions may be too punchy to skin all the way. Because it has direct sun exposure and the snow will rot.  We found the rocks offered stable footing on our approach. 

Q: Do you know who handles Punchy well..?

A: Fighters!   

Once in the couloir, it's good skiing.  There's enough room to make comfortable turns.  Midway down, however, it begins to narrow and the pitch steepens.  It is very important to stay in control through this section because a fall would send you over a cliff.  This is where you want to look for the anchors on the right wall.  Clip in and set up your rappel.

When we skied the NW couloir, it was directly following a descent on the North couloir.  The North couloir was a serious challenge and w/o a rope the North Couloir felt more exposed for much longer.  Maybe I had become accustomed to the exposure by the time we were here in the NW Couloir, but from my perspective, the NW Couloir didn't seem as difficult.  Granted you must have rope skills to attempt the NW couloir adding to the difficulty level.

Pfeifferhorn NE Couloir

The NE Couloir.  The Biggest, the baddest, and the scariest of the three Pfeifferhorn couloirs.  The NE couloir is the most difficult to find and the most exposed of the three.  I would not recommend it to anyone.  We at Park City People have "yet" to ski this one so I have no insight on how it might be.  It looks scary and I've drawn out the line in preparation for when I do ski it.  There is a mandatory rappel midway down anywhere from 80' to 130'.  So bring your mountaineering equipment and don't forget your courage for this one.  PHOTO ABOVE

Watch The Epic Pfeifferhorn NE Couloir Ski Descent!

Backcountry Skiing the Pfeifferhorn Couloirs

Pfeifferhorn North Couloir

Get a good look at it
Backcountry Skiing Broads Fork in Big Cottonwood Canyon Utah

The North Couloir!

The North Couloir is the most memorable line I've ever skied!  Located right there at the base of the mountain the way to access it is to boot pack directly up it.  It's way too steep (48degrees) & narrow to skin up.  This one has a lot of exposure so you don't want to fall.  I'd recommend skiing it with a whippet or ice axe in hand, as we did.  We skied it late April and there was a small 3ft rock-drop/cliff in the narrowest section of the couloir.  This rock drop may be filled in earlier, or with a high snow fall season.  The North couloir is high adrenaline steep and exposed line.  No rope is required to ski the North couloir, however you will need to bring an ice axe or whippets.  (crampons optional)   Backcountry Skiing the Pfeifferhorn Couloirs

How to access The Pfeifferhorn

Start at the White Pine Trailhead in the little cottonwood canyon. The route up to the Pfeifferhorn links 3 summer trails and it's possible to get off track if you're not paying attention.  You start from the White Pine TH parking lot and make your way up the White Pine trail until you reach the Red Pine turn off.  You cross the White Pine stream and continue up the Red Pine trail for about a mile and a half.  Then you're going to head right onto Maybird trail and make your way over the divide that splits Red Pine Canyon from Maybird gulch. The trails climb 2,600ft before you reach the base of the Mighty Pfeifferhorn. If you want to go backcountry skiing the Pfeifferhorn couloirs, you're going to have to earn it.  


Related Articles and links:

Chuting Gallery

92 of the steepest ski descents in the Wasatch

*Pfeifferhorn Trip Photos Backcountry skiing*

* Backcountry Skiing *

Recommended guide books

Backcountry ski & Snowboard routes UTAH  Jared Hargrave

Falcon Guide - Backcountry Skiing Utah  by Tyson Bradley

the Chuting Galley by Andrew McLean